5 signs Microsoft is serious about making Azure an enterprise hybrid cloud

Here are five of Microsoft's most recent moves aimed at making Windows and Azure your hybrid cloud platform

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Of all the cloud players, Microsoft is one of the best positioned to create a hybrid cloud specifically for enterprises -- and scarcely a month goes by when it doesn't roll out a change for Azure to further that goal.

Among the top cloud players, Microsoft has its roots deepest in the enterprise. (IBM, the other big player that comes to mind, has done relatively little hybrid work with its cloud.) Azure has radically evolved from the days when it was the cloud play Microsoft had no choice but to make. 

Here are some of the steps Microsoft has recently taken to ramp up Azure as a cloud solution for its enterprise customers:

1. New integrated hardware solutions

Microsoft wants to make it as straightforward as possible for Windows Server users to build local Azure-style instances and connect those setups to Azure. Look no further than Dell and Microsoft's Cloud Platform System as an example of a turnkey hardware solution that provides an "Azure in a box" experience for enterprises.

Whether it's as easy to set up and use as Dell and Microsoft claim is another story, and the companies' motives for partnering may have been as much about saving Dell as giving Microsoft a hybrid future, but the intention is clear nonetheless.

2. MoveMeToTheCloud.net

Microsoft's Azure Websites Migration Assistant is designed to migrate websites running on IIS 6 or higher into Azure. There are limitations as to what can be migrated, but again, the intention is clear: Get existing Microsoft infrastructure users into Azure, as painlessly as possible, before they decide to go somewhere else.

Doubly clear, Microsoft is working this to pitch Azure as a migration option for enterprises still using the soon-to-be-unsupported Windows Server 2003. As most of the workloads for those systems are Web applications that can run pretty much anywhere there's an IIS stack, little reason remains to keep them running on a physical box.

3. The ever-expanding roster of Azure Active Directory features

Active Directory is an indispensable enterprise technology, so small wonder Microsoft has been rolling out one feature after another for Azure's version of AD. 

The latest batch of features allows Web app publication through Azure AD, administration delegation, and other new capabilities specific to the Azure incarnation of AD. What better way to inspire people to go hybrid than to make the hybrid experience of using a key enterprise technology more powerful and useful -- and cloud-centered?

The soon-to-be-former Windows Server 2003 users also come back into play here, since it's likely Microsoft wants to shift AD workloads from Windows Server 2003 to Azure where possible -- and to have those users on a platform that generates a better revenue stream for Microsoft.

4. New Azure features keep on coming

The above-mentioned AD feature set revamp was part of a recently announced deluge of new Azure features. In most cases, the features are designed to appeal to enterprise customers wanting to build out or migrate to Azure (such as Azure SQL). Case in point: Premium Storage is an SSD-backed storage tier for I/O intensive workloads, which Microsoft bills as having "the ability to truly lift-and-shift your demanding enterprise applications ... to the cloud."

5. Azure support for Docker (and whatever comes beyond)

Support for the hottest news in devops was probably inevitable -- not just because every other cloud provider has added Docker support, including the ability to deploy a private Docker registry. Any place that supports technologies like Docker becomes more appealing, both to forward-looking enterprises and those hunting for a way out of their application quandary.

Plus, with Microsoft preparing to add Docker support to Windows (the time frame and implementation are still fuzzy), the pressure is on to make Azure a staging ground where forward-looking technologies can take root, both for Microsoft and its enterprise customers.

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